Jim Barrett, a co-owner and vintner at Ch. Montelena, took the wind out off the French wines’ sails as his white Californian Chardonnay 1973 scored off the world famous Burgundies (French) in number of blind tastings in Paris. His pride now hangs on the wall in the corridor connecting tasting rooms at the American Chateau.
Chardonnay Chateau Montelena 1973
Chateau Montelena is located in Calistoga, the Northern part of Napa Valley which received its AVA (American Viticultural Area) status this year.
The first and the most famous tasting often called the ‘Judgement of Paris’ in 1976 was organised by a wine writer, educator and a columnist at the British wine magazine Decanter Steven Spurrier. The lineup was stellar and to the surprise of the French judges consisting of the ‘creme de la creme’ in the French wine society the white Chardonnay from Napa overthrew their cherished Burgundies.
It was ‘a big bang’ for the California wine makers. With Montelena winning over the whites and Stags Leap (another winery from Napa) taking the lead in the red category. The Paris tasting was a milestone putting the Californian wines on the world wine map. 1976 sparked a revolution with hundreds of new wineries all over California being born since then.
Mr Spurrier might be rightly offended by how the filmakers portrayed him in Bottle Shock, a movie recreating the events surrounding this historic moment in Californian wine industry, but I think he must be proud of himself to be the first to challenge the establishment. French wines are not the only good ones. The New World found its own place in a wine connoisseur’s mouth.
For those of you who have not seen the movie Bottle Shock yet I would highly recommend it as it is a great comedy, love story as well as educating piece all about ambitious winemakers making the difference.
Library tasting at Chateau Montelena
I’ve tasted the Montelena’s Chardonnay during the Library Tasting at the winery. Lead by an experienced winemaker I’ve enjoyed not only the wines but also a vibrant conversation of wine enthusiasts tasting with me in the private room. I am not sure whether we were not influenced by the fame of the Chardonnay but most of us agreed that it is still the best wine Chateau Montelena does. We haven’t tasted the famous 1973 vintage, but the 2007 from a vineyard in the Carneros region suitable for growing white wines was in made in the same spirit. Mineral tones with refreshing citrus, green apple was rounded off with intense tropical fruits and touch of smoke.
On the other hand a red 2005 Montelena Estate Zinfandel surprised all of us calling it “a good party starter”, a perfect “wake-up” or “a stream of energy”. Spicy, smoky with soft tannins it was more interesting than the estate Cabernet. I know, the producers in Napa strive for the best Cabs as the terroir is ideal for it, but not all of us have the ‘Parker taste buds’ to appreciate the big wine often not friendly to food matching.
A visit of Chateau Montelena in Napa will please  not only wine lovers but also piece seekers as their Chinese Jade Garden with lakes and wooden arbours ideal for picnics promisses a relaxing day in the valley.
The Chateau
Jade Garden at Chateau Montelena